By Granate Sosnoff

It seems to me that many advocacy groups have strayed away from expressing analyses of race, class and gender and towards talking about “fairness” to compete for funding or appear entrepreneurial, large and inclusive. “Fairness” reminds me of getting the smaller amount of potato chips on my plate and not of the systems involved in poverty and lack of opportunity in this country.

It’s a marketing game for some, but for others it’s the real deal, they are working for “fairness” without pointing a finger at anyone or anything – just dealing with the particular problem at hand like traditional charity work – which there is (of course) great need for. There’s also a need for movement building, working together to change the conditions of why charity is continuously needed and unfairness exists.

In a similar critique in “The Charitable Industrial Complex” the newly minted philanthropist, Peter Buffet wrote in the New York Times that:

“Between 2001 and 2011, the number of nonprofits increased 25 percent. Their growth rate now exceeds that of both the business and government sectors. It’s a massive business, with approximately $316 billion given away in 2012 in the United States alone and more than 9.4 million employed.”

That’s a lot of money, hundreds of billions! And a small army of change-makers gainfully employed. So why aren’t we tipping the scales in all areas, away from inequality and poverty and towards a better world for everyone?

Social justice work can be innovative and entrepreneurial

We need to do more than “make a difference,” we need to do better. With all the brains, money and good intentions involved, we should be exploring MANY revolutionary and technology-infused ideas towards ending poverty and inequality and have the numbers to back us up.

There are (of course) groups that do effective policy work and movement-building well.

Two new successful social justice groups have emerged worth crowing about. They are the youth and student-based groups of the Dream Defenders and United We Dream.

These majority young people of color groups are having an impact in changing legislation and policy. They are also gaining popularity not just with traditional progressives, but with diverse audiences from Essence and Jet magazine, the Huffington Post, as well as NPR.

Both groups have strong brand identities, dynamic websites and social media presence. They offer prime examples of successfully matched technology-based organizing and on-the-ground pressure.

With their popularity and authentic statements around equality and the need for change, they are proving that social justice can be inviting, encompassing and just what we need right now.

Because there’s a lot we need to get done

Some facts and trends:

•      The Black unemployment rate is consistently twice that of whites.

•      Income “segregation” is rising and the middle class is shrinking.

•      Sexual violence against women and children is a constant factor in our lives.

•      LGBTs have gained civil rights in some states yet are still persecuted and victims of violence.

•      We have a minimum wage that can’t support one person or a family without other assistance and half of those who work for minimum wage are women.

Yes these are all huge problems but progressives and could-be progressives are out there, including millions employed in some kind of nonprofit do-good work. We need to persuade them that social change is something positive to buy into. We need some corralling and some loyalty-building by groups that we can get behind.

Even smart corporate marketing is putting a large effort into “movement building” – getting people to be passionate ambassadors of their brand – rather than focusing on one-off campaigns.

And Oakland? What about us? What groups are effectively doing social change work here so more people can eat, have homes, dreams, walk safely and the opportunity for a better life through education and access to technology and jobs?

Tell me about your favorite Oakland social justice heroes and groups here – and what they’re doing for Oakland.

Editor’s Note: This piece reflects an individual opinion and is not a reported story from Oakland Local. Oakland Local invites community residents to share their views about events and issues in Oakland. See our guidelines.

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One Response

  1. Beth T.

    I think that the writer raises some really good questions worth debating! Though I don’t agree that the nonprofit sector as a whole has moved away from confronting the “isms,” I do think that there has been a lot of focus on being “on the cutting edge” and using technology as a way to create change. Sometimes so much so that the methods overshadow what we are actually working towards.

    However, I do believe that EBASE (East Bay Alliance for a Sustainable Economy) is an Oakland-based nonprofit that is confronting the root causes of poverty and inequities in the East Bay. The organization convenes coalitions of community, youth, faith, and unions; conducts policy research; does grassroots organizing; and advocates for low-wage workers locally. Right now, it is working to raise standards in the service sector economy: fast food, retail, and other jobs that pay poverty wages. We must raise standards for these workers who are struggling to put food on the table – and that includes raising the minimum wage. When workers are paid more, it comes full circle. They spend more money in local businesses, that spurs jobs growth and sales tax revenue which can then be invested in our schools, infrastructure, and public safety. Our whole community benefits.


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